December 20, 2022
Between the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation, the Social Security Administration (SSA) spent the past year continuing to respond to economic pressures on Americans’ lives. While the most significant change may have come with the announcement of a substantial Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) increase in 2023, additional steps were taken to support the Americans most in need. President Joe Biden sought to respond to economic pressures with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced a decrease in Medicare Part B premiums for next year. In addition to economic relief, there were positive changes related to accessibility. For the first time in over two years, in-person services became available for Social Security claimants, expanding accessibility for those with impairments or technology limitations.
Return of in-person services and hearings
Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration reached an agreement with three unions representing SSA employees to reinstitute in-person services and hearings for the first time since March 2020. The union representing Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) was given the option to return voluntarily by May 4th, with all ALJs required to be in-person by June 3rd, unless they qualified for a medical exemption.
Expanded Compassionate Allowances list
In August, Social Security announced it was adding a dozen new conditions to its Compassionate Allowances list. For those with qualifying conditions, this allows them to receive a designation that fast-tracks their Social Security Disability (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) application. Among the conditions added to the list of over 260 conditions were five cancer impairments, a very rare neurodegenerative brain disorder, a genetic disorder, a neurological disorder, and a kidney disease. Those diagnosed with a qualifying condition, and are in the process of filing a claim, should contact their local Social Security office to ensure their file has the designation.
Major COLA increase for 2023
On the heels of last year’s historic 5.9% COLA increase, the SSA announced an even bigger bump of 8.7% effective December 2022. Starting in January, checks sent to 65 million Social Security recipients and seven million SSI recipients will reflect the most significant increase since 1981. Given the ongoing impact of inflation felt by Americans, the COLA is well-timed to offset the increase in costs of basic living expenses. Beginning this month, beneficiaries can log into their my Social Security account to verify their new ongoing payment amount.
Growing backlog plagues Social Security offices and applicants
Despite several positive changes announced at Social Security this year, a growing backlog of SSDI applications at the Initial and Reconsideration levels continues to pose difficulties at Social Security offices across the country. While the number of applications has increased year-over-year, the reduction in staffing is causing the biggest pain point. Social Security is running its operations with 4,000 fewer employees than in 2010 and without a sufficient budget to offer overtime and other solutions to current employees. The Deputy Commissioner of Communications recently released a statement highlighting these struggles, painting a grim outlook on the state of Social Security in 2023.
With continued shifts in the Social Security landscape, Brown & Brown Absence Services has been working closely with clients to support their needs and provide assistance where needed. Should you have any questions about any recent announcements from Social Security, you may reach out to your local Social Security office or Brown & Brown Absence Services Group directly for additional information.
Please note that as of 2021, The Advocator Group now conducts business as Brown & Brown Absence Services Group. While our name may have changed, our commitment to excellent service and helping our clients in as many ways as possible has not.